The Brooklyn Nets are stacked with talent, but they still have question marks in the frontcourt. What’s the plan?
Positionless basketball is a term that enveloped the basketball zeitgeist in recent years. Terminology is constantly changing when it comes to defining positions and roles in the NBA. Even the center position — long the anchor of an NBA roster — is changing with the times.
Although there are still plenty of rim-running giants in the NBA, small-ball centers are commonplace nowadays. Few teams embrace the idea of small ball as much as the Brooklyn Nets.
Throughout last year’s playoffs, Nets coach Steve Nash rolled with Blake Griffin, Jeff Green, and even Bruce Brown at center. All the while, three-time All-NBA center DeAndre Jordan sat on the bench.
Green and Jordan are both out after Brooklyn let Green walk and traded Jordan to the Pistons. However, they are being replaced by Paul Millsap and LaMarcus Aldridge.
So, what do the Nets plan to do at the center position this year?
If sportsbooks were setting lines on who would start for the Nets at center, Blake Griffin would be the odds-on favorite. He started at the position in the playoffs and although he’s not a natural five, he’s willing to do the dirty work.
With Griffin at the five, the Nets will be undersized against the likes of Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, and other physical big men. However, the flip side is that those centers will have to chase smaller guys around the perimeter.
The Nets can’t afford to play small ball for 48 minutes each game, but Griffin as the starting center is the most likely outcome on opening night.
Aldridge is returning to the Nets after heart issues forced him to cut last season short. At the time, Aldridge thought he was calling it a career, but he has the green light to play from doctors. It was a foregone conclusion that Aldridge would return to the Nets.
However, there is uncertainty surrounding his role. He started in the five games he played for the Nets in 2020-21, but that’s far too small of a sample size.
Speaking of size, Aldridge provides the Nets with more size at the five. Although Nash might flirt with starting the seven-time All-Star, he feels like a natural fit on the second unit. He can provide extra scoring punch when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are resting.
Expect Nash to stagger James Harden’s minute so he’s spearheading that second unit. Aldridge can be a great pick-and-pop threat alongside Harden.
Paul Millsap will spend most of his Nets tenure at the four, but he’s capable of sliding to the five when necessary. Will Millsap start at the four? This would allow Durant to move down to the three while simultaneously pushing Joe Harris to the bench. Maybe. Maybe not.
It’s unclear how Nash plans to use Millsap next season, but he offers a level of flexibility to this roster that the Nets will need to fill after losing Jeff Green.
One year ago, talking about Bruce Brown as an option at center would be laughable. Now, it’s a legitimate option for the Nets to think about. Brown is the extreme small-ball option, but he acquitted himself well last season.
Brown is more of a “break glass in case of emergency” guy given the current depth. If he can start knocking down threes with any level of consistency, he becomes a tantalizing option in crunch time.
When is Nicolas Claxton going to break out? Will he ever? He flashed potential in years one and two and yet, he hasn’t been able to crack the rotation for consistent minutes. Unfortunately for the 22-year-old, Nash and the coaching staff tend to favor experience over youth.
With all that said, Brooklyn would love for Claxton to become a factor. He offers a mix of size, length, and speed that no one else on the roster can match. Players have unexpected breakouts every year in the NBA. Is this Claxton’s time to shine or will he remain on the fringes of the rotation?
The rookie out of North Carolina looked raw in Las Vegas Summer League. Not bad, but raw. Day’Ron Sharpe will need seasoning before he is ready to be a consistent contributor for the Nets.
That’s not a bad thing. Sharpe has the potential to become a dominant rebounder with some offensive flair. Brooklyn has options at the five, even if a few of those options are untraditional.